Vertical Limit (2000)
I’ve obtained a lot of fun from Vertical Limit. It’s got a nutty plot, a fair share of the special effects haven’t aged well, many characters are badly written characters, but the adventure nonetheless keeps you entertained.
Billionaire Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton) wants a second chance to climb K2, a 28,250-foot mountain in Pakistan’s Karakoram range that nearly claimed his life. When the expedition finds disaster, Peter (Chris O'Donnell) volunteers to go rescue him and his sister, Annie (Robin Tunney) who was on the same trip. Gathering a group of misfit would-be rescuers, grabbing some nitro-glycerine from a nearby military base and determined not to leave anyone behind, Peter is taking it to the limit of human survival… the VERTICAL LIMIT!!!!
This plot is damn silly. My idea of an adventure is choosing my underwear with my eyes closed so I’m not the best person to ask, but it’s my understanding that professional spelunkers, mountain climbers, deep-sea divers, space explorers, etc. know there are some risks. The people in Vertical Limit think they’re invincible. Chance of a sudden storm? Feh, nothing to be worried about. Big pile of grave markers indicating dozens of people having died on this very mountain before? Only sissies would take a look at those. All signs pointing to the rescue operation being a suicide mission? Sign me up! They have to, in order to stitch together a series of near-death situations up in the mountains and throw in some explosions for extra points. Why else would they willing haul canisters of nitroglycerine, a Mountain Dew-coloured substance so explosive a few drops can level a small house. It’s no surprise the body count is high at the end; they’re bringing dynamite sticks to a fireworks display!
Let’s move on. Without the setup, there’d be no movie after all. A major flaw with Vertical Limit is its UVC: “Unnecessary Villain Syndrome”. This movie is about survival. People are in trouble, in a remote area. Mother nature is deliberately out to kill them, the chances of getting out alive are thin, even if the rescue team arrives. There’s a lot of tension because nature kills indiscriminately, supplies are limited, communication difficult, and people have these bombs strapped to their backs. Why then, do we need a villain thrown in? About halfway through, a character reveals themselves as pure slime. I’ll give you a clue. Is it a member of the rescue team, the people going on a suicide mission to save the three survivors barely clinging on for dear life? Probably not. Is it the sister of our main character, the one that tragically saw her father die and blames her brother but is now faced in a situation where she might herself have to choose between who lives and who dies based on the limited resources? How about the second survivor, the official guide up to the mountain, who wanted to turn back but was pressured by his boss to keep going because “his instincts don’t measure up with the data we’re getting from the high-tech equipment”? Now let me remind you that this character is severely injured, nearly dying and can’t move. Could the villain be the third survivor? The millionaire who funded the expedition, who was one of only three survivors who returned from the climb 4 years ago, who pressured the guide to keep going despite warnings and who, once again I have to reiterate, is rich and has no instincts when it comes to mountain climbing? There are no points for getting the correct answer and no points are given to this movie for introducing this development in the story, which is unnecessary, artificial and nonsensical. It’s only in there so you can have the audience cheering when they get their comeuppance… as if a successful rescue from the deadly, deadly mountain wasn’t enough.
In all fairness, the movie can be fun in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. There are many stunts to keep you entertained, plenty of nutty moments to laugh at, and overall it’s predictable story makes it easy to ridicule. It still isn’t really that bad as far as these disaster movie types go so if you’re just looking to turn off your brain and see explosions and people falling to their deaths, this is a good pick. Vertical Limit is bad, but it’s an entertaining kind of bad. (On Blu-ray, July 12, 2014)